I’ll admit, three weeks ago, after completing my final 50K race of 2014, I couldn’t muster the inspiration to write a blog post to recap the event. The North Face Endurance Challenge was held on December 6th in the beautiful Marin Headlands of California. I placed 5th overall in the 50k race, had a ton of fun on the muddy trails of Cardiac Hill, and was overcome by emotion as I was cheered across the finish line by my November Project teammates.
Despite it being an excellent race day for me and all of my friends, I’ve been lackluster in my desire to recap the event, as my race seemed kind of bland: simply ‘well-executed’ and ‘as-expected.’ While this is exactly what the ultra-marathon race director 0rders on race day, it doesn’t make for captivating media. I even shaved 26-minutes off my best 50k time of the year, though I don’t have any earth shattering explanation for it! I didn’t experience any breakthroughs in nutrition, except for yelling at two consecutive aid stations for not having any Clif Shot Energy Gels… I was later informed that none of the aid stations had them, which is an absurb omission for any Ultra event, let alone an Ultra event sponsored by Clif. I didn’t change anything with pacing, or stride length, or attitude, or game plan. I had written the distances between aid stations on my wrist band, and attacked the race in 4-6 mile segments, as I always have.
Adding insult to my post-race humdrum, I prescribed myself a two-week respite from running which forced me to push all thoughts and urges about running to the back burner. I’ve had a whirlwind 10-months of consistent training and proud race performances, so a break from running to recharge and rejuvenate was both well-deserved and completely necessary. While, I battled with the urge to fill my free time in my running shoes, I couldn’t muster the ambition to recount the splendor of my most spectacular trail race of the year.
18 days have passed since the ECSCA race, it is now Christmas Eve Day, and I am in St. Louis, Missouri. I’m finally active again: running repeats up Art Hill in Forest Park with Julia. I’m back in my element: shorts, running shoes, and a grassy field as my canvas. It’s misty, it had rained earlier in the day, the sod was mushy, yet we were smiling. I felt the vigor of activity, just as I had during the 50k race. The fun, the freedom, the focus. YES, I had rekindled that feeling from race day in California!
This is a feeling that I know quite well, in fact I call it “Play Smile.” Perhaps you’ve seen me wearing t-shirts with this slogan, or maybe you’ve even purchased these shirts from my on-line Zazzle shop (Cha-Ching). Unbeknownst to many, these two words define the freebrid lifestyle that I pursue each and every active day. I don’t train, I Play. I don’t grimace or groan, I Smile. I felt this while sloshing through the mud with Julia, and I had felt it in California on race day.
When I went out to play in the Marin Headlands, I had the privilege to run up and down a mountain through a switch-back stream of mud. I splashed mud all over my legs, ruined a brand new pair of Nike Terra Kigers, and even got poison oak rashes as a reminder of the mystical forest in which we explored. I wasn’t out there working, I wasn’t pushing myself beyond my limits, I was flying through the woods in a playful adventure! I felt it. Play Smile.
PLAY: Verb. To exercise or employ oneself in diversion, amusement, or recreation.
Play resonates the spirit of our youth: when we engaged in activities because they were fun. We played neighborhood games, dug dirt bike tracks in our backyards, and had no regard for time on our feet, calories burned, or power output.
SMILE: Verb. To assume a facial expression indicating pleasure, favor, or amusement.
Smile is a reminder of the fortune & gratitude we should all have toward our active lifestyles. Being fit and healthy is a privilege, we work for our health, we are free to explore and adventure because of out healthy and able bodies.
It was no mistake that as he ran with me towards the finish line, Brogan, reminded me to Smile. While, I may not have been showing my teeth as I gritted through the last 400-meters of the race, in my head and in my heart I was beaming from ear to ear.
These feelings & emotions are subtle queues that stick with us throughout our lives. There is a big difference between the venues in which my playful splendor overtook me: the quaint challenge of Art Hill in St. Louis versus the raucous switchbacks of Cardiac Hill in California. Both put me in a state of Play Smile. I was free to get dirty, take risks, find support, and revel in my health.
Thank you, NFEC. Thank you, Trail Running. Thank you, Country Grammar.
And sometimes Sage Passes you.
Run to the hills, run for your lives: Team November Project 5280, my 50k playmates.